Harvey Cox and others have observed that Pentecostalism’s gift to the world was the gift of the poor. Perhaps something of the inverse can also be said: A gift from the poor to the world has been the Pentecostal movement.
Here, I will divide my observations into two categories. First, those challenges that I see as primarily internal to the Pentecostal movement and then I will move finally to the issue of the so-called “prosperity gospel”.
For most Pentecostals, social responsibility has been primarily limited—with some notable exceptions—to the spheres of mutual help and some forms of social and material assistance to neighbors in need. But in other situations, Pentecostal efforts at social transformation has led to the defense of human rights and other forms of social and political activism.
It has perhaps become something of a simplistic quip or cliché, but the observation has been made by several authors that in Latin America during the 1960s and 1970s, while liberation theology there developed its “preferential option for the poor”, the poor opted for the Pentecostal churches.
Pentecostals take quite literally Jesus’ injunction to be filled with the Spirit and to be witness to the ends of the earth
In any case, the argument can be made, with clear statistical support, that the majority of Pentecostals are still poor in the Majority World where the vast majority of Pentecostals reside today. That would mean that, globally, Pentecostals are strongest among the impoverished masses. In other words, the majority of Pentecostals today are poor.
Many people in Spirit-filled communities can feel like they don’t belong. They identify as Spirit-filled, yet there own experience doesn’t seem to match up with those of their community. They might feel like they don’t shout enough, dance right, tongue-talk enough, or vote right. Truthfully, this experience can be a gut-wrenching crisis of identity. “If these people are Pentecostal… then what am I?”
Pentecostal churches are not “sects,” “steered by U.S. capital and the CIA”. They have sprung up out of the ground everywhere, like mushrooms. They are an independent popular movement of the poor. They have something to say to the whole of Christendom on earth, and have liberating experiences to pass on to all men and women.
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